Steve Robertson - Genespage.com

Bulldog sophomore safety has had a break out season for Coach Peter Sirmon's defense.

Mississippi State players and coaches made their way to St. Petersburg, Florida on Wednesday. The Bulldogs have taken the Maroon and White show on the road as they prepare for their bowl match-up with Miami of Ohio. Safety Mark McLaurin reports that he and his teammates are eager to take the field one more time as they take part in the program's seventh consecutive bowl appearance.

Monday's meeting between the Bulldogs and Miami of Ohio will be the first time the two programs have met on the football field. The contest will also be the first meeting for either team in the St. Petersburg Bowl. 

Mississippi State safety Mark McLaurin reports that the historical detail that matters most is the fact that the Bulldogs are in a bowl once again.

"It's just another chance to get better," McLaurin said. "It's another chance for us to go out and compete for another bowl and another ring."

The Red Hawks enter the contest having won six games in a row after dropping their first six contests of the 2016 slate. The season turned when sophomore quarterback Gus Ragland returned to the active roster after working back from an ACL tear this spring.

"We know that when their quarterback came back that he has been a big help to them," McLaurin shared. "He has done a tremendous job for them, so we are looking forward to seeing what they are going to do."

Ragland enters the game having completed 62.4% of his passes this season and throwing 15 touchdowns against zero interceptions. 

The Bulldog bowl preparations began with several members of the scout team getting some practice reps with the varsity before Coach Dan Mullen and his staff began installing their game planning. While an underclassmen himself, McLaurin has two years of SEC experience under his belt. Despite having two seasons of knowledge to pull from, the Collins, Mississippi native still considers himself a work in progress.

"I am always trying to get better and improve my game," McLaurin said. "No matter what, there are things that I can get better at on the field. I just continue to get better like Coach always says. I know what I am doing when I go into the game."

While oddsmakers have installed the Bulldogs as a considerable favorite in the game, McLaurin reports that his team is approaching the contest with plenty of respect for their opponents. 

"We definitely can't overlook any opponent," McLaurin said. "The moment we do, we don't play to our standards. We know Mississippi State football is what we want to play, so that is what we are going to go out and play."

The Bulldogs enter the contest with a 5-7 mark on the season. Needless to say, the regular season tally fell south of pre-season expectations. McLaurin reports that his team will enter the game looking to end a frustrating year on a positive note.

"We know during the season why we didn't win the games we were supposed to," McLaurin said. "We are just going to come out and play our game and play Mississippi State football."

The Bulldogs were for all intents and purposes the final team selected to the 80 team bowl field. While State players and coaches had reasonable assumptions about their pending selection, the arrival of the official word was music to the Bulldog ears.

"It was a great experience," McLaurin said of the bowl announcement. "We are keeping the team legacy of going to bowl games. It's an honor and a blessing to keep going. Coach brought us into a meeting and told us that we were going to a bowl game. We have just been getting prepared and ready to go."

Many Bulldog fans will elect to stay home and watch the St. Petersburg Bowl on television on December 26th rather than take on holiday traffic and see the game in person. Fresh off of a four day break, Mississippi State players are excited to have one more game to play even though they will be away from home on Christmas Day.

"It's exciting," McLaurin said. "We thought it might be (December) 17th. We found out it was going to be after Christmas. It's here or there, but spending Christmas on the beach, you can't get any better than that."

The Bulldogs will look to bring some hardware home from West Florida as they make their return trip to Starkville. Should State earn the victory over Miami of Ohio, that trophy will remain in Bulldog possession forever. The trip to Tropicana Fieldhouse was made possible by securing the Golden Egg after a five touchdown cake walk over arch-rival Ole Miss. 

"It's a great feeling," McLaurin said of having the Egg back in Bulldog possession. "Last year I lost it and I never got to experience winning it. It's a great experience. We came out and fought and did what we had to do. We played a great game and brought the Egg back to Starkville."

Monday's kickoff is set for 10 AM central. Mississippi State is currently a 14 point favorite. The Bulldogs will spend Christmas Day together as part of a team celebration of the holiday.


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